Café China (New York City NY)
||13 East 37th Street,|
New York City, NY 10016
Reviewed by: Michael Gray
Fall Volume: 2012 Issue: 19(3) page: 28
CAFE CHINA on EAST 37th STREET in Manhattan is owned by Mr. Zhang Xian and his wife Wang Yiming, He is from Shanghai, she from the Harbin in China's northeast. They hire a Sichuan Chef, a Mr. Liao Xiaofeng away from Lan Sheng, a Sichuan restaurant, and then opened this Café China in 2011.
It does have a limited menu compared to most Chinese restaurants with a wide array of cold dishes, Shanghai-style. There are twenty-one of them including favorites like Five Spice Beef and Jellyfish. There are also thirty-six main entrees and twelve vegetable dishes. Oddly, they offer no Chinese soups except Hot and Sour and Seaweed; the latter is the only one that comes with their lunch specials; just request others, you’ll be glad you did.
We start with four appetizers: Ginger-flavored Bitter Melon, Spicy Beef Tendon, Szechuan Pickled Vegetables, and Dan Dan Noodles. The cold Ginger-flavored Bitter Melon is less ginger-flavored than advertised as chopped pieces of ginger are merely sprinkled on top. Something seems lacking in this dish, fermented black beans, perhaps? Spicy Beef Tendon is often accompanied by slices of ox tongue. They do not appear in this dish, and we miss them. The tendon does have excellent texture and good hot numbing or mala flavors; it is a winner.
Szechuan Pickled Vegetables are not spicy at all, the carrots in this dish haphazardly cut, no two pieces the same shape. And as to the Dan Dan Noodles, they are outright disappointing. They were not hot and came with a mere hint of coriander present.
We ask for and do get the two soups, but they arrive lukewarm. We immediately send them back to be reheated. The Hot and Sour Soup has too much vinegar and lots of tofu and egg; the Seaweed Soup comes with all too few shards of seaweed.
As to the main Sichuan dishes sampled, Mapo Tofu and Kung Pao Chicken lack proper mala seasonings; both are too sweet and ala Shanghai-style. Baby Ribs in Bamboo Leaves in bamboo leaves are on the bland side leading us to suspect they might be re-using their bamboo leaves. They offer no taste to anywhere in the rice. The five wrapped pieces are not uniformly shaped; is there a trainee in the kitchen that day? Sautéed Spinach with Garlic bland, as well, perhaps they are buying and using pre-peeled garlic pieces that are far from fresh.
Café China is an attempt at haute Chinese fare and the place does look lovely though with minimal decor. Prices here are all rounded to the even dollar, and we like that. There is a full bar with cocktails, wine and beer.
Our overall opinion: This is a midtown Manhattan presentation of Shanghai-style pseudo-Sichuan cuisine, complete down to the stick of chewing gum arriving when the check is presented. In general, the service is good, the ambiance fine, and the inconsistent use of chili and Sichuan peppercorns throughout the meal at this particular upscale east-side café a big disappointment.